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Protecting your mental health at Christmas

Christmas is a time of year dedicated to joyful celebrations. However, for many people, Christmas can be ruined by run-ins with not-so-lovely relatives, too much alcohol, stress, or loneliness. Either one of these things can lead to unhappiness. And with the added anxiety and fear around Covid-19, Christmas might be even more stressful this year. 

Protecting your mental health at Christmas
Maria Montgomery
· 8 min read

Christmas is a time of year dedicated to joyful celebrations. However, for many people, Christmas can be ruined by run-ins with not-so-lovely relatives, too much alcohol, stress, or loneliness. Either one of these things can lead to unhappiness. And with the added anxiety and fear around Covid-19, Christmas might be even more stressful this year. 

Let's look at each one of these stressors and how to deal with them. 

Triggers for stress

First, let's look at some of the common triggers for stress during Christmas. These include: 

  • Dealing with relatives and friends you're forced to spend time with, but don't want to
  • Dealing with drunk friends and relatives
  • Having to prepare social events (such as cooking a Christmas dinner)
  • Financial stress due to hosting social events, gifts, and travel
  • Having children or other relatives at home during the holidays
  • Dealing with social distancing during celebrations
  • Dealing with loneliness

What can you do to minimise this stress? Well, you can be clear about what you are and are not willing to do. We will look at different ways to relieve stress below, but for each one, you need to set the bar. Decide what you want, whether it's the "done thing" to do or not. 

Reduce financial stress

If you can't financially handle hosting a party or giving a lot of gifts, don't do it. Alternatively, come up with a way around it, such as doing something special together instead of giving gifts. Instead of hosting Christmas dinner and having people in your house all day, host a Christmas tea with Christmas cake, or pudding, for an hour or two. 

Set a spending limit - give yourself a budget and stick to it. If you think relatives can't handle the truth (i.e. that you're under financial pressure), then are they the kind of people you need around you? Besides, with Covid-19, a lot of people are under financial stress right now. 

Reduce your exposure to stressful people

If you're stressed because you don't like certain relatives, decide how much time you're willing to spend with them. Either agree to see them for a limited amount of time or choose not to see them at all.

If it's a matter of you not being able to stand up for yourself when certain people are around, then that's on you. They might be unpleasant sometimes, but how you react is up to you. Read some personal development books (there are plenty at the online Scribd library) or get a coach and prepare yourself before you see them. Think through how you want to react in different situations and act it out in your mind. When doing this, you need to bear in mind both how you'll likely feel and how you want to act even when feeling that way. Also, think about how you'd like to feel instead. 

Reduce stress surrounding alcohol consumption

If your stress springs from some peoples' tendency to consume too much alcohol, either reduce the amount of alcohol available or reduce your time with them. If they are close to you, you may also have to confront them and tell them as it is. Just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to put up with their nastier sides. Help them overcome them instead. 

The same thing goes for your alcohol consumption. Set clear guidelines for how much booze can be kept in your house at any given time. There is no need to drink an extra bottle of wine just because it's Christmas if you're already drinking half a bottle of wine with dinner. 

Reduce the stress of having kids and relatives staying over the holidays

Without school to keep the children busy, life at home can get hectic. Likewise, having relatives come to stay for Christmas can feel overwhelming. 

The best way to get rid of this kind of stress is to prepare. Write out a schedule both for food and activities. Create the schedule beforehand as opposed to when you're already in the midst of things. Be sure to include time for yourself in that schedule and make it clear to your guests and children that this is a requirement. 

By being prepared, whether that involves pre-made dinners or excursion plans, you can relax more. 

Lastly, tell people if there are any house rules they need to abide by. It's your home, so set the rules, and remember your "unwritten" rules aren't the same as theirs. If they aren't interested in adhering to the rules, are you interested in hosting them? 

Reduce your stress around Covid-19

The best way to protect yourself from Covid-19 is to see people outdoors and stay at a safe distance from them. You also need to ensure all parties wear masks. 

If outdoors happens to be in your garden and everyone's eating, then ensure to separate different households. You can do this by assigning one family per table. You can also ask that people bring their own foods and drinks, as well as dinnerware.

Another option is to have people get tested before they arrive at an indoor party. Of course, they need to stay quarantined while waiting for the results and travelling to the party. 

Online parties are yet another option. 

Reduce stress around loneliness 

This year, more so than ever, people will be lonely during Christmas due to Covid-19. But isolation due to Covid-19 isn't the only reason people feel lonely. Maybe loved ones have died, and you're reminded of your last Christmas together? Perhaps your social life isn't great. Maybe your ex dumped you unceremoniously. Maybe you're mourning children fleeing the nest. Maybe you just retired. It could be for several reasons.

The best way to overcome feelings of loneliness is to focus on something else, like making new friends. That doesn't mean you won't mourn if someone has died, it simply means you won't be stuck in a negative pattern. You deserve to be happy. 

Ideas for getting social include:

  • Partaking in activities with friends
  • Meeting new friends through apps
  • Volunteering 
  • Taking classes
  • Attending workshops
  • Setting up a small business (such as selling something at markets)
  • Joining local clubs and organisations

Remember, a lot of people will feel lonely this year, so pick up the phone and call them. Or send them a message on Facebook instigating contact. 

Reduce stress in general

Here are some tips for reducing stress in general (whether it's Christmas or not): 

  • Partake in moderate exercise - you need it for a happy and healthy mind 
  • Set time aside for doing things you love, like partaking in various hobbies
  • Set time aside to socialise with people whose company uplifts you - if you can't do it in person, do it over the phone or online
  • Eat well - without getting the proper nutrients you will feel lacklustre and possibly even depressed
  • Get enough sleep and go to bed at the same time every night
  • Do a walkthrough of difficult situations in your mind and decide on how you wish to act before they happen
  • Spend time outdoors daily if possible
  • Meditate daily for five to ten minutes
  • Plan where you can - create checklists and schedules and prepare things ahead of time
  • Take time out for yourself

Remember - you can schedule all the above into your Christmas. 

Instant stress busters and mood enhancers 

If you feel a bout of intense stress, the best way to deal with it is to tackle the underlying cause. The second best way is to put yourself in a good mood and deal with underlying causes later. And, frankly, sometimes the only underlying cause is where you choose to focus your attention. If you keep thinking about someone who broke your heart, the issue is that your focus is on that instead of happier things. 

  • Watch an uplifting film or series
  • Do a cardio workout lasting at least 15-20 minutes to get a "runner's high" (endorphins get released)
  • Attend a comedy show, speech, or theatrical production
  • Talk to someone who will talk about anything but your problems
  • List all the things you're grateful for (what's working in your life right now)
  • Have a cold bath or shower (unless you have heart issues)
  • Go for a walk
  • Do something that requires your full mental attention

Protecting your mental health at Christmas

Whatever you plan to do to protect your mental health this Christmas, remember to put yourself first!

Whatever your circumstances, we hope you can have a stress-free, relaxing, Merry Christmas!

Maria Montgomery
Maria Montgomery
Maria has lived in seven different countries around the globe. While trained as an actor, director and producer, mainly she’s been paid for putting her words to pieces of paper. She also has an entrepreneurial streak and is the owner of Magique and That Woman Is A Woman Productions. Her blog, Confessions of a Dizzy Blonde, offers her life learnings, sprinkled with a large dose of humour…and sex!